Reading (Hebrews 4:1-5, 11) Gospel (St. Mark 2:1-12)
Saint Paul today, in the first reading, has a very interesting argument with regard to his own ancestors and about entering into the rest that God promises. He tells us that they heard the good news just as we have, but it did not profit them because they did not believe. And he talks about the fact that this is the case because God’s rest was established on the seventh day of Creation. In other words, to be able to enter into that eternal rest is not something that began only when Jesus came into this world, but rather that same thing, Saint Paul is saying, began from the very beginning. And so the opportunity to enter into that rest is something the ancients had the opportunity to do as well and they knew that, Saint Paul is telling us. They did not know the fullness of it, obviously, as we would have with the Lord and with all the teaching of the saints and so on that has gone on before us, but they knew enough that they would be able to enter into His rest. But they were rebellious and disobedient to God and they did not enter into His rest, even though they had seen all of His mighty works.
Now we can look at it and say that we have not seen the mighty works of God, but then the necessity of it was not there. For those folks, He was trying to demonstrate to them His reality and His existence and that He was the God Who had chosen them. For us, we already know that is part of history and we have the fullness of the teaching of Christ so it does not need to be demonstrated to us. We need to make that act of faith just as the people of old had to. Even though they saw the mighty works of God, at the same time, we too have seen many things of God. We have many things that they did not. We have the Eucharist that they did not. We have Confession that they did not. We have Baptism that they did not. We have the grace of the Holy Spirit made known to us; they had that to a degree, but it was not as evident to them as it is to us.
We have many opportunities and many gifts from the Lord, so none of us can say that we do not and that if we had the same opportunities as they – that is, if we could see the Red Sea opened, if we had manna in the desert, if we had water from a rock and all these extraordinary things – then we would believe. The people of old did not – and we have greater things than that! And so the question is “Do we believe?” because the only way (as Saint Paul tells us) to enter into the rest that the Lord is offering is to believe in His word and to live it, to act upon it.
Even the people of Our Lord’s day, they gathered around to hear Him to the point where the entire town was gathered at the door and there was no room. At the same time, we know from other places in the Gospel that Jesus condemned Capernaum because the works that were worked there, if they had been worked in Sodom and Gomorrah and Tyre and Sidon, those people would have converted, and the people of Capernaum did not. And so even in the place where Our Lord was most of the time in His public life – the people who heard His preaching, the people who saw the extraordinary works that He had worked – they were untouched, unmoved by what the Lord had done. They marveled at His glorious works but they did not listen to His word. They refused to allow their hearts to be opened and changed.
It is interesting even to listen to what the Lord asked the scribes, who were thinking in their minds the various things that they had in mind, and the Lord says, “Why do you harbor these things in your hearts?” That is exactly what He is going to look at with us. What is in our hearts? We know in our minds what the truth is and we have not rejected that, but what about our hearts? It is that which Our Lord is looking at. We need to take the truth that we know in our minds and we need to get it into our hearts and we need to live it. We need to act upon it, otherwise, what Saint Paul said of the people of old is going to be said of us as well: that they received the good news but what they heard did not profit them because they were not united in faith with those who listened.
The people of Capernaum heard but they did not listen. What about us? We know the truth – do we live it? We have the Gospel preached to us – do we listen to it? Do we take it in and change our lives so that the good news of the Gospel is going to have an effect in the way we live our lives? That is what Our Lord is looking for. And if we live the way we are supposed to (that is, according to the obedience of faith) then we will enter into His rest. The people of old were disobedient. They heard the word and they did not live it – and they did not enter into His rest. The Lord continues to offer to us that eternal rest of Heaven and the choice is up to us as to whether we want it or not. But it is not merely a matter of what we know in the head. We certainly need to accept the fullness of the truth and we need to give intellectual assent to that. But it is not merely believing in our head what we know to be true; it is allowing what is in the head to get into the heart and to change our lives so that we will live the truth that we profess.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.